Don't Neglect Your Villians
by Jennifer Bradley
To start this article off, Iím going to make a bold but, I believe, truthful statement about stories that feature a struggle between good and evil (or just simply a conflict between a certain character and the person or problem thatís bothering them)óthe VILLIAN is the reason for the story. I mean, think about it, if Sauron wasnít trying to reclaim his ring so that he could take over Middle Earth, what would have been the point of Frodo trekking and suffering all that he did to make it to the fires of Mt. Doom? The Rebel Alliance and Luke Skywalkerís journey to Jedi knighthood would have never occurred if Emperor Palapatine didnít create an evil empire to oppress the people of the galaxy. And the list goes on.... The heroes of the story may be the reader and writerís focal point for getting through the plot, but letís not forget what it is that makes them such. Send comments to
That being said, to portray a really interesting struggle between good and evil, youíve got to clearly define the evil your hero is fighting against. Whether it is a monster, destructive force, or diabolically-minded person, let the reader know there is a distinct threat to the hero and the things he loves. The best way to do this is to put your villain of choice out in the open, and make it a SEPARATE entity from the hero. A lot of stories and, especially movies, that Iíve experienced seem to show the villain only when it is attacking or being attacked by the hero, which works of courseódonít get me wrong. But reality-wise, do villains only exist in a shapeless void to be pulled out just when the hero is on stage? Nope. They plot, they prepare, they eat dinner. As a fellow writer and avid reader, I beg that you show a few of these things. Youíd be amazed how much more evil, or (if you desire) slightly less evil you can make a villain seem by giving him his own air time. Iíll give you an example:
From an overhanging cliff, Hero (A) witnesses Villian (B) ravaging the innocent peasants of a peaceful village. The sound of crackling fire and screams stings his ears, and a maddening lust for vengeance boils up inside of him. Through these two sentences we see that the villain is an evil-mass murderópossibly in for a major stomping by the hero. This is a basic, run-of-the-mill, villain casting. A guy shows up, does something bad; the hero jumps down and stops him. No matter how well you describe this scene, youíre still, in my opinion, only getting half of the story.
Now letís forget the hero entirely and focus on the villain:
Villian (A) stands amidst a pile of bleeding, scorched bodies. He hears the villagerís frightened screams as lively music, and imagines the survivors will beg to service his every pleasure, lest they join their comrades at his feet.
Here we get a peak inside the villainís mind: the guyís a sadistic bastard out looking for slavesópersonality and motive. Same thing is going on as in the previous blurb, but now instead of being on a cliff above, weíre right in the middle of the action. Seeing things from the point of view of the villain makes him even more frightening, more hateful, and thus the story more enjoyable when you bring the hero out to his trash butt. After giving the villain his solo, though, you can be just as descriptive with the heroís rage as I was before, but in bonus you can now introduce him as a surprise, since the reader doesnít know heís arrived yet.
As I mentioned earlier, thereís also a way to make the villain seem a little less evil than his position would make him out to be:
Villian (A) watched quietly the fire and death blazing on around him; time and experience had chilled his heart to such sights, so that he hardly felt thing a when the begging midwife fell beneath a dragoonís spear. This was not the first time the emperor had ordered a ďrooting outĒ of dissident villages, and it would not be the last. When he came home, though, he would tell his daughter the people harbored trolls and warlocks amongst them.
With this last piece you can see that the villain is still evilóheís still slaughtering defenseless villagersóbut not so much as before. The act of terror is not entirely his own, and he even feels a sense of shame in it, as he decides to lie about it to his daughter. What something like this does is add a sense of humanity to the villain, making him more sympathetic to readers. Yes, the guy still has to be taken down by the hero, but now itís a little less easy for the reader to write him off. This can be especially useful, if you want to have the hero defeat him but spare his life, or even join up with him later against an even greater threat.
Other ways to flesh out your villains and make them more interesting include: giving them allies/friends (specifically identified, not just mentioned as such), backgrounds, and detailed a. Iíll say again that the more defined the villain of your story is: the more there is a sense of peril facing the hero, and the greater the satisfaction the reader is going to have when he overcomes it.
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